At least eighty-six people have been killed in a car bombing in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. More than 100 were also wounded in the attack, which targeted a crowded market. The attacks came as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Pakistan to show support for the Pakistani military’s offensive against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in South Waziristan.
In Afghanistan, at least twelve people have been killed in an attack on a home used by UN staffers. Six of the victims worked for the UN, including one American. The attack was one of several around Kabul earlier today, with others targeting the presidential palace and a luxury hotel.
The attacks come one day after eight US troops were killed in roadside bombings in southern Afghanistan, making this month the deadliest for the US military of the eight-year Afghan war. At least fifty-five US troops have died this month, surpassing the previous record of fifty-one set in August.
In other Afghan war news, the New York Times is reporting the brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been on the CIA payroll for much of the past eight years. Ahmed Wali Karzai has drawn controversy over his alleged ties to the Afghan opium trade. The New York Times reports Zarzai has helped recruit a CIA-controlled Afghan paramilitary force that operates in the southern city of Kandahar.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is facing a challenge from so-called “moderate” lawmakers over his plans to include a government-funded public insurance option as part of healthcare reform. Reid said Monday he had settled on a compromise that would allow states to opt out of the public program. But on Tuesday, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said he would back a Republican filibuster if the public option is included. Lieberman is an Independent but caucuses with the Democrats. Republican Senator Olympia Snowe also renewed her opposition to the public plan. Several Democratic senators have refused to publicly support Reid’s measure, including Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas.
Healthcare activists, meanwhile, are continuing with rallies for a single-payer medical system. The group Mobilization for Health Care for All says it will hold a new round of sit-ins at insurance company offices today in at least ten cities.
In financial news, the White House pay czar overseeing seven major bailed-out firms actually increased base salaries at the same time as he cut overall compensation last week. Kenneth Feinberg reduced compensation by about half for 136 employees, including twenty-five executives. But the Wall Street Journal reports Feinberg raised salaries an average fourteen percent after the banks complained. Neither Feinberg nor the Treasury Department discussed the salary increases when they announced the cuts last week. The increases offset the total cuts by “a small amount.”
The Obama administration has unveiled legislation that would allow the government to shift the cost of future bailouts of troubled firms to other large companies. The measure would create a fund from companies with over $10 billion in assets to bear the costs of rescuing other so-called “too big to fail” firms. The legislation was drafted by Treasury officials and House Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank.
The investigative news website ProPublica is reporting meanwhile that intense lobbying has stripped the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency of powers to oversee the nation’s auto dealers. The House Financial Services Committee voted to establish the agency last week. But the panel overwhelmingly approved an amendment to remove auto dealers from the agency’s purview. That effectively means that while financial firms that provide auto loans will be regulated by the agency, that regulation would stop when the loans reach the dealers.
In Chicago, thousands of people marched on a gathering of the American Bankers Association Tuesday. The march capped the last day of the Showdown in Chicago, organized by a coalition of union and community organizations to protest the Wall Street bailout. Chicago public healthcare worker Angenita Tanner was among those to address the crowd.
Angenita Tanner: The banks have not held up their end of the bargain. Foreclosures are at a record level. Small business lending is down. Unemployment is at a twenty-six-year high, and banks are spending millions of our dollars fighting against financial reform. The banks have not met the conditions of their $17.8 trillion loan from taxpayers. So they are in default, and we want our money back!”
Back in Washington, a group of lawmakers representing three minority caucuses is denouncing a Republican proposal to investigate the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, on allegations it’s sending spies into congressional offices. Four Republican lawmakers called for the probe after a recent book called Muslim Mafia accused CAIR of planting spies posing as congressional interns. The only verified intern spying to come out of the book is that of the co-author’s son, who posed as a convert to Islam and worked as an intern in CAIR’s Washington offices. Speaking on the House floor, Congress member Keith Ellison of Minnesota read a statement from the Congressional TriCaucus.
Rep. Keith Ellison: “These charges smack of America sixty years ago, where lists of 'un-American' agitators were identified. We should be affirming the importance of diversity and tolerance for all interns and staff who serve in Congress, without suspicion of being identified as spies. The idea that we should investigate Muslim interns as spies is a blow to the very principle of religious freedom that our Founding Fathers cherished so dearly.”
The White House has announced $3.4 billion in funding for smart grid technology. The spending will go toward providing digital meters for consumers and energy utilities. The grant is said to mark the largest investment in energy grid modernization in history.
Here in New York, a major gas company has announced it won’t drill for gas inside the state’s main watershed. The decision by the Chesapeake Energy Corporation follows growing public opposition to a state plan that would allow gas drilling inside the Marcellus Shale, which supplies drinking water to some 15 million people, including nine million New Yorkers.
The United Nations General Assembly is scheduled to hold an annual vote today calling for an end to the US embargo of Cuba. It will be the first vote on the Cuban embargo to be held since the Obama administration took office. In Cuba, Cuban National Assembly leader Ricardo Alarcon called on Obama to change course.
Ricardo Alarcon: “Mr. Obama wasn’t even born when, there in Washington, in the same White House where he is now, they said the words that started this. Because of this, he cannot be blamed. He inherited this policy, but he has applied it for the last ten months, and because of this, he is just as responsible as his predecessors.”
The non-binding measure regularly passes with an almost unanimous vote. It passed last year with 185 in favor and three opposed — the US, Israel and the Pacific island state of Palau.
And in Texas, death row prisoner Reginald Blanton was executed Tuesday night. He was twenty-eight years old. Blanton was convicted for a 2000 robbery-slaying but maintained his innocence until his death. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Defense attorneys say prosecutors relied on coerced testimony and may have unfairly excluded blacks from the jury pool.